Changing the odds for
Our Youth

Your support propelled our mission forward to fight poverty by investing in bold ideas that create opportunity for Chicago’s youth.”

In a year of extraordinary challenges, our portfolio not only persevered, but provided Chicago’s youth with critical holistic supports and delivered an unprecedented level of impact. Our portfolio organizations now reach more than 42,000 youth from cradle to career, providing a range of innovative, life changing opportunities for our city’s young people.

In addition to our core portfolio, our Emergency Relief Fund provided essential supports to more than 600,000 youth and families. And through our newly launched Catalyst Fund, we strengthened and broadened our core portfolio with five new investments on Chicago’s West Side.

In a year of unrelenting challenges, your support propelled our mission forward to fight poverty by investing in bold ideas that create opportunity for Chicago’s youth. We are grateful for your continued partnership in this work.

Beth Swanson


Portfolio Impact Snapshot

42,079 - Our portfolio served more than 42,000 youth—from cradle to career—in 2020.

  • An increase of 2,640 more youth than in 2019.

4,200 - Due to the work of our grantee organizations, 4,200 more students are on track to long-term success.*

  • 879 more than last year.
  • 28,721 total youth on track to achieve critical milestones (vs. 24,563 benchmark).

67% - Of youth served by our grantees 67% are on track to achieve long-term success. This is 10% more than similar Chicago youth who are not beneficiaries of our support.

* Our key success metric, youth on track to long-term success, is a product of both the size of our portfolio (reach) and the strength of its outcomes (achievement of key success milestones).

About US

A Better Chicago is changing how Chicago fights poverty by investing in bold ideas that create opportunity for our youth. We raise funds from donors who want to amplify their impact, then invest both meaningful grant dollars and strategic capacity-building support that help our grantees grow in scale and impact.


A Better Chicago is committed to advancing racial equity and ensuring Chicago youth are economically mobile and thriving in education, career, and life. Given this nation’s longstanding history of systemic inequity, we focus our efforts on funding and scaling ideas that expand opportunities for Black and Latinx youth, with particular emphasis on those ideas coming directly from the communities we serve. Read our full statement here.

The Challenge

We know that the challenges are great, and the need is even greater. However, we believe that, together, we can build a city where all youth have what they need to thrive in education, career and life.

Poverty rates continue to rise1

National poverty rose 2 points from June to July 2020 to 11.4% (40% more than the largest historical one-year change).

Impacts are largest for Black Americans, children, and those without a high school degree.

Academic impacts are less dramatic than feared; but gaps continue to widen

High school attendance fell by 7 points to 81% and elementary school attendance fell by 3 points to 92% between the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 academic years. 2

Low-income and non-white youth suffered the most across school attendance and enrollment metrics.

Mental and social-emotional recovery is critical

44% of young children experienced an increase in mental or behavioral health symptoms during the pandemic. 3

Experts emphasize that “if you’re not feeling safe or well, you’re going to have a real challenge engaging in academic work and learning.” 4

Essential needs remain paramount

260,000+ CPS students qualify for free/reduced lunch each year. 5

17,000+ CPS youth experience homelessness each year, relying on school for essentials, laundry, and stability. 6

Youth employment outcomes suffer

As of December 2020, Illinois was one of six states with unemployment rates 5 percentage points higher than pre-pandemic. 7

If prior years’ positive trends had persisted, 33% of Illinois youth ages 16-19 would have been employed in summer 2020. Instead, only 16% were. 8

1 UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy;
2 CPS via ABC News;
3 Lurie Children’s Hospital;
4 Director of UIC’s Center for Literacy (via Chicago Runtimes);
5 Chicago Food Bank;
6 Chicago Coalition for Homeless;
7 Mathematicas;
8 Illinois Policy.

Our Impact

Our overarching goal is for youth in Chicago to grow to be economically mobile and thrive in education, career, and life. Through our portfolio, we increase the number of Chicago youth with the resources and opportunities critical for long-term success.

Portfolio Reach



+2,640 YoY from 2019

Our portfolio continues to serve more young people year after year. In 2020, our grantees served more than 42,000 youth—from early learners to college graduates.

Dollars raised


The generosity of our donors and corporate partners makes our work possible. We reached a new fundraising record in 2020 with more than $8 million dollars raised to support our portfolio of youth-serving nonprofits.

Donors engaged


We are proud to have a diverse group of individuals, corporations, and foundations that donate to help break the cycle of poverty for current and future generations. In 2020 alone, we engaged more than 1000 donors.

Growing the Portfolio

We know that the youth most impacted by systemic inequities, and now the pandemic, are on the South and West sides of Chicago. We launched our Catalyst Fund in 2019 to direct resources to highly effective community-imbedded leaders serving youth on the South and West Sides and made our first Catalyst Fund investments in 2020.

New Investments

Our five new Catalyst Fund investments are Black, community-embedded leaders with innovative approaches to serving youth on the West Side.

Austin Childcare Providers Network

Austin Childcare Providers Network is an organization focused on elevating childcare provider quality and developing a collaborative pilot focused on ensuring that children leave early childcare provides ready for kindergarten by creating continuity of learning and practice among childcare (pre-K) providers and elementary schools.

Firehouse Community Arts Center – VIP Program

The Firehouse Community Arts Center’s VIP (Very Important Process) Program is focused on the prevention and interruption of violence by providing young adult men with mentorship, leadership development and access to skills training and job opportunities.

The Bloc

Along with learning the sport of boxing, which serves as a meaningful physical outlet for youth, The Bloc provides youth from the West Side of Chicago with academic coaching and mentorship.

Redemption Project

MAAFA’s mission is to repair and rebuild West Garfield Park by improving the quality of life of emerging adult, Black and Brown men and their families. MAAFA focuses on creating holistic “oasis of opportunity” for these young men to equip and empower their movement from “at risk” to thriving.

West Side United

West Side United’s Cluster of Care Community Hub will provide students and families with wraparound services and resources conveniently located in the school building. The Hub’s key programmatic support areas will include primary care, mental health services, social-emotional learning support, and trauma-informed professional development training.

Portfolio Impact

Our key success metric, youth on track to long-term success, is a product of both the size of our portfolio (reach) and the strength of its outcomes (achievement of key success milestones).

Each A Better Chicago grantee tracks indicators tied to one or more key success milestones (e.g., grade-level reading and math attainment, high school graduation, quality career attainment). We measure overall outcomes by comparing grantee and portfolio results to external benchmarks of youth with similar demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.

Our annual portfolio-wide impact metric estimates our portfolio’s impact on the number of youth on track to long-term success as:
(Reach) x (Portfolio success % - Benchmark success %)


Our portfolio served more than 42,000 youth—from cradle to career—in 2020.

  • An increase of 2,640 more youth than in 2019


Due to the work of our grantee organizations, 4,200 more students are on track to long-term success.

  • 879 more than last year
  • 28,721 total youth on track to achieve critical milestones (vs. 24,563 benchmark)


Of youth served by our grantees 67% are on track to achieve long-term success. This is 10% more than similar Chicago youth who are not beneficiaries of our grantees.


A Better Chicago portfolio organizations serve youth from communities disproportionately impacted by the current pandemic and systemic inequities in our country. This includes BIPOC, low-income, and other marginalized communities.

Black and/or Latinx



Value Add

A Better Chicago provides a combination of unrestricted funding and management support, including capacity-building assistance and thought partnership, to empower grantees to tackle their most pressing strategic and operational challenges.

in Direct grants
in Co-Investment
in Management Support
in Pro-Bono Support
Management Support Projects

In 2020, we executed seven different external management support projects with six of our grantee organizations. Many of these projects were portfolio-wide workshops to address challenges regarding fundraising and communications strategies during the pandemic.

Professional Development projects (4)

Building Effective Presentations
in partnership with our impact council

Project Management in a Virtual World
in partnership with our impact council

Managing to Change the World
in partnership with The Management Center

Virtual Meeting Best Practices
in partnership with Bain & Company

Fundraising and Communications Strategy projects (3)

Fundraising During COVID (Dual Pandemics): Mindsets and Strategies to Survive
in partnership with Teach For America

Philanthropic Giving Trends
in partnership with Northern Trust

Virtual Fundraising Best Practices
in partnership with our grantees Pitch In and Chicago Scholars

Chicago Scholars – DEI Strategy Assessment

Through their recently completed strategic planning process, Chicago Scholars identified that their scholars consistently experience structural exclusion based on race and class in both college and the workplace. As a result, the organization pursued this project to intentionally and explicitly integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into how Chicago Scholars achieves its organizational goals. A Better Chicago provided input during the consultant selection process and funded 50% of project costs.

Pitch In – Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Capacity Building

With a program model anchored in SEL, Pitch In bolstered its program team’s knowledge, skills, and capacity in SEL and redoubled its goal of delivering developmentally scaffolded, high-quality curriculum and student supports through an extended series of professional development workshops and coaching. A Better Chicago provided input during the consultant selection process and funded 75% of project costs.

KIPP Chicago – Network Leadership DEI Competency Development

As part of its commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization, KIPP Chicago’s network-wide leadership team engaged in a series of DEI workshops to create a clear vision and pathway towards a more racially just and equitable experience for students, families, teachers and staff. A Better Chicago funded 50% of project costs.


2020 was a particularly important year for A Better Chicago as we celebrated 10 years of impact. We launched innovative partnerships, hosted compelling events, and redirected critical resources to communities in need while introducing our work to new audiences.


We became one of the anchor residents of FBRK Impact House, joining fellow funders in Chicago’s first innovation-based philanthropy center founded by former Bears player Israel Idonije.


We hosted Chicago at the Crossroads documentary screening and panel discussion with filmmaker Schodorf and Firehouse Community Art Center Executive Director Pastor Phil Jackson.


We launched Emergency Relief Fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on youth from low-income, Black, and Latinx communities.


We teamed up with World Central Kitchen, Chicago Public Schools, and NFL Player Adrian Clayborn to support students and families by providing more than 11,000 meals to more than 5,000 households during the summer months.

We celebrated Chicago Public Schools’ highest-ever graduation rate of 83% that was propelled by gains from Black students. Additionally, we invested with CompUDopt to supply thousands of graduating seniors facing financial hardship with laptops and other technology needed to pursue their postsecondary goals in a hybrid learning environment.


We joined forces with Mikva Challenge to host the first-ever State of Chicago’s Youth virtual town hall where youth leaders shared policy recommendations focused on health, education, juvenile justice, housing, and safety/policing.

We co-hosted an “Innovation Through Crisis” event with The Chicago Public Education Fund to showcase exemplary leaders in our schools and their efforts to empower Chicago’s youth to thrive even in times of uncertainty.


We launched our One West Side partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation to invest at least $2 million in exemplary BIPOC leaders from Chicago’s West Side serving youth from cradle to career.

We made our first Catalyst Fund investments to support community-embedded leaders with innovative approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of our city.


We celebrated 10 years of impact with our A Better Future virtual fundraiser honoring the nonprofit leaders, youth changemakers, and generous donors who are stepping up to build a better future for us all.

Emergency Relief Fund

Through our Emergency Relief Fund, we invested $2.5 million in 47 local nonprofits serving more than 600,000 youth and families. The organizations below worked diligently to bring direct financial support, essential goods, and innovative educational programming to communities hardest hit by COVID-19.


youth and families served

32 new to ABC (13 current grantees, 2 former grantees)



Identified 76 organizations for potential future funding




The significant volume of applications we received represent the massive and evolving need, especially on the South and West sides of our city. Of these applications, about 35% were related to food and groceries, 15% for mental health supports, and 20% for remote learning technology (e.g., devices) and/or wifi.

The Impact

Our Emergency Relief Fund grantees focused on three main areas of need, with the majority of organizations addressing more than one need.

Organizations focused funds towards innovative programming
Organizations gave direct financial assistance
Organizations provided food and other basic essentials

Our funding also supported the expansion of high-quality learning and engagement opportunities, including:


Remote learning devices


Households with WiFi


Provided in college-related expenses


Youth and families with access to remote mental health services


Youth in K-12 with enhanced remote learning opportunities

The Voices

Covid-19 has been a real game-changer for me in terms that I never knew what situation I would be in. It changed the way I learned, the way I worked, and also the way that I would communicate with others. I had to move to online learning. …It is not only hard but sometimes tough to make sense of what is being taught. Bottom Line has helped me navigate this different type of learning.”

Luis, Student at UIC

Your generosity has helped make obtaining my degree from National Louis possible, and I am incredibly grateful for this.” “I grew up in Chicago and attended high school in a low-income community. … I am the youngest of five children and the first to attend college. Growing up in a less privileged community caused me to experience financial challenges, but it helped me realize the importance of education.”

J.F, Student at National Louis University

The emergency funds have been nothing short of a blessing. Coming from a family who has been stuck and plagued by a cycle due to our socioeconomic status, these emergency funds have given me a way to have a burden slightly alleviated. …These funds have been a huge help in ensuring I have everything I need to become successful in life. Without the accessibility to these funds I do not think I would be able to afford the cost of attendance for the university I attend.”

Anthony H., Embarc alumni

Thanks to the generosity of A Better Chicago, and many other supporters who followed ABC’s lead in responding to the nonprofit sector’s deep needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, in early May, Pitch In successfully pivoted its social-emotional learning curriculum to a remote format and launched its first-ever virtual programming! Our middle school students are now able to log into a secure Zoom meeting on a weekly basis, connect with their Pitch In family and Mentors, share how they are coping and where they need support, and engage in activities that build their mind muscle and creativity.”

Wood Family Foundation – Pitch In Program

Our Investments

In addition to COVID-19 emergency relief efforts, A Better Chicago’s incredible portfolio of core organizations provides Chicago’s youth with the education, skills, and opportunities to succeed and break the cycle of poverty.

Catalyst Fund

Supporting community-embedded leaders with innovative approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of the city

Austin Childcare Providers Network

Firehouse Community Arts Center

MAAFA Redemption Project

The Bloc

West Side United

Venture Fund

Seed investments in promising organizational models that are ready to scale

BARR Center


College Possible Chicago

iMentor Chicago

Intrinsic Schools

Pathways at NLU

Pitch In

Growth Fund

Significant investments to grow successful organizations with strong track records of impact

Bottom Line Chicago

Chicago Scholars

KIPP Chicago

Noble Network of Charter Schools


One Million Degrees

Our Team

Colin Baker

Portfolio Associate

Domonique Battle

Portfolio Director

Becky Betts

Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer

Blair Bryant

External Affairs Coordinator

Emily Harris

Special Assistant to the CEO

Kelly Jones

Chief Investment + Strategy Officer

Melanie Matar

Development Associate

Rob McCloskey

Chief Finance and Administration Officer

Danisha Moore

Communications Associate

Marshana Roberts Pace

Director of Investments

Gabe Rojas

Impact and Innovation Associate

Sarey Snieg

Portfolio Coordinator

Beth Swanson


Our Board

Stephen Beard

Chief Executive Officer

Adtalem Global Education

Sean Berkowitz

Partner & Global Chair of Litigation

Latham & Watkins LLP

Eric Chern


Chicago Trading Company

Bill Conway


Raputs, LLC

Becky Elrad

Civic Leader

Ricardo Estrada

President & CEO

Metropolitan Family Services

John Gilligan

Civic and Business Leader

Dr. Janice Jackson

Former CEO

Chicago Public Schools

Jack Keller


Keller Group, Inc.

Chris Keogh

Consumer and Wealth Management

Goldman Sachs & Co.

Timothy Knowles


Carnegie Foundation

Liam Krehbiel

Founder + Board Chair

A Better Chicago

Taylor O’Malley

Co-Founding Partner & President

Balyasny Asset Management LP

Ginger Ostro

Executive Director

Illinois Board of Higher Education

Tracy Schwartz-Ward

Managing Principal

Schwartz Capital Group

Timothy Schwertfeger

Chairman & CEO Emeritus

Nuveen Investments, Inc.

Christian Zann

Chief Investment Officer and Founder


Our Leadership Council

Jeff Akers

Partner & Head of Secondary Investments

Adams Street Partners, LLC

Shakeeb Alam

Co-Founder & President

East Bridge Capital Management

Adam Butler

President, U.S. Beverages, Snacks & Desserts

The Kraft Heinz Company

Micah Carr

Chief Brand Officer

Blue Meridian Partners

Kevan Comstock

Managing Director


Richard Copans

Managing Director

Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC

Chuck Dauk

Vice President, Business Development

US Venture, Inc.

Scott Daum

Managing Director

Parallel49 Equity

Katherine Finnegan


Finnegan Family Foundation

Jeremy Franklin

Managing Director

GEM Realty Capital, Inc.

William Heard


Heard Capital, LLC

Adam Hitchcock

Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Sovereign Infrastructure Group

Rachel Geller

Managing Director

Insight Partners

Duane Jackson

Managing Partner & CEO

Jackson Private Capital

Sami Kamhawi

Managing Director

Goldman Sachs

Rich Parisi

Founding Partner

Catania Capital Partners

Manoj Patel

Co-Head of Global Infrastructure Securities

DWS Group / RREEF America, LLC

Caroline Reckler


Latham & Watkins LLP

Arnaldo Rivera

Chief Administrative & Equity Office

Navy Pier

Michelle Schumaker

Senior Director, Global Sales Readiness


Nick Scodro

Head of Business Development

RBN Insurance

Mike Siska

Partner & Managing Director

William Blair & Company, LLC

Kathleen Steele

Managing Director

Equity Group Investments


Thank you to everyone who made this work, and this report, possible.

A special thanks to: Bark Design, Becky Altman, Samantha Estacion, Christy Joyce, Vaish Shastry, Laura Walzer, and Danielle Veira.